For four seasons, Iris West-Allen (Candice Patton) and Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) were the only main female characters on the show. They have known each other now for over five years now, if we are to include pre-canon when Barry was in a coma.
I should preface this opinion by stating that I love The Flash
. I have watched the show religiously since season 1, and I think it has struck the perfect balance between comic-book adaptation and live-action entertainer. It has an incredibly likable protagonist in Barry Allen, and it has an talented cast of actors, who have brought their respective characters to life beautifully. And the interpersonal relationships between the characters bring so much texture to the show, whether it's Barry and Joe's amazing father/son dynamic, or Barry and Iris' love-transcends-spacetime romance, or Cisco and Caitlin's delightful, supportive friendship.
So, what, then, happened to the female relationships on this show? The opportunity to craft amazing female bonds was right there, and yet, nearly every time the show portrayed a dynamic between females, it dropped the ball. The Flash
has proven that it can portray healthy, supportive, and beautiful relationships between characters, but for some
reason that does not apply to the relationships between the female characters have shared on the show
. I was inspired to write this opinion when I heard that Nora West-Allen and Iris West-Allen would have a tenuous mother/daughter relationship for several episodes when season 5 commences, while Barry and Nora will get along right off the bat. While I am excited to see Barry and Nora develop a great relationship, I can't help but raise my eyebrows at what I view as yet another female dynamic being potentially disrespected. Thus, I decided to highlight ten female dynamics that I think are relatively central and discuss what went wrong, what went right, and whether there is potential for the writers to fix or develop the particular dynamic. Finally, I discuss my hopes and fears about Nora and Iris. I will split the categories between friendships
and mother/daughter dynamics
1. Caitlin and Iris
Iris and Caitlin hug after Iris asks Caitlin to be her maid of honor in a sweet moment.
Oh, Iris West-Allen and Caitlin Snow.
So much potential, and yet so egregiously tossed to the side. Why is that? In my opinion, Iris and Caitlin have personalities which mesh really well, and both women face similar tragedies. When we first meet Caitlin, she is uptight, reserved, and somewhat cold. When we first meet Iris, she is bubbly, warm, and loquacious. As the series continues, Iris becomes more pragmatic; we learn that is courageous, and extraordinarily determined and extremely loyal. Similarly, Caitlin's guard begins to drop; we learn that she is sweet and caring and adorably socially inept. The first mention of Iris from Caitlin is that, "She talks a lot," while the first mention of Caitlin from Iris is that, "She (along with Cisco) is the coolest person she knows for helping to save Barry's life." They don't directly interact until season 1, episode 9, "The Man in the Yellow Suit," where Caitlin asks Iris if she could send her information on "The Burning Man," and Iris asks Caitlin if there is something going on with Barry, as Iris feels that he's being cagey with her. Caitlin encourages Iris to confront Barry directly, thereby indicating that she's not too fond of Barry and Joe choosing to keeping this secret from Iris. It's sweet, because in this one scene
both girls arm one another with information and encourage each other's agency. I can forgive the subsequent lack of development of Iris and Caitlin's friendship for the majority of season 1, because there aren't that many opportunities for them to interact. There's this secret that sits in between them and inadvertently creates a chasm between them. However, in 1x21, "Grodd Lives," Iris has now learned that Barry is the Flash, and she is furious and frustrated and deeply hurt that Barry and Joe kept this from her. Caitlin is particularly comforting at this time, sticking up for Iris and happily including her into the team dynamic (for which Iris expresses her gratitude), and they casually chat. Iris asks Caitlin about Ronnie and is happy that he is alright now. When Barry states that the three of them (referring to himself, Cisco, and Caitlin) took down Grodd and saved the city, Caitlin is quick to remind him that it was actually, "the four of us," raising Iris' key contribution to the forefront. In 1x22, "Rogue Air," Caitlin is accosted and attacked by Peek-a-Boo, who has escaped from her meta-human holding cell, and Iris saves her, by knocking Peek-a-Book out with a wrench. It is evident that there were seeds planted for a lovely, consistent dynamic between the two girls.
Unfortunately, when season 2 rolled around, the writers inexplicably dropped the ball. In the season 1 finale (and confirmed in the season 2 premiere), Iris lost Eddie, and Caitlin lost Ronnie. This was a perfect opportunity to have the girls lean on one another for support (or even just simply discuss) their similar traumas. It would have also fleshed out their characters, individually. When we meet Iris in the season 2 premiere, she's holding the team together, she's successful in bringing Barry back to the Team, but she's grieving silently on her own. A couple of episodes later, she's hit with the revelation that her mother, whom she believed to be dead, is actually alive. Caitlin, on the other hand, is working at Mercury Labs and blames herself for Ronnie's death. Once she's brought back to the team by Barry, the show hardly ever discusses her grief about Ronnie, which is, in my opinion, unfair to her. Having these two women talk about their loss, even just in passing, would have been a nice way to keep the development of a friendship that began at the end of season 1 alive. Instead, Iris and Caitlin interact sparingly for the entirety of season 2. A minor exception, arguably, is 2x14, "Escape from Earth-2," where the two girls are alone in S.T.A.R. Labs together and casually chat, culminating in Caitlin saving Iris from Geomancer. This serves as a mirror to their Earth-2 counterparts' dynamic, which was always antagonistic, and which worsened after Killer Frost and Deathstorm were the cause of Earth-2 Joe West's death, leading Detective Iris West to seek vengeance.
And then there's season 3. Ohhh boy.
After season 3, I honestly thought that there's no coming back from the egregious errors made in respect to Iris and Caitlin's dynamic. In fact, post-season 3, I went through a phase where I did not want any strong friendship to develop between them and was fine with them simply being friendly with one another. Iris, like the rest of the Team, is concerned and sympathetic to the manifestation of Caitlin's cold powers. Killer Frost, in season 3, episode 7, "Killer Frost," accuses Barry of destroying everyone's lives, including her own, and that he doesn't care, "because he got Iris. He got his happy ending." Iris fixates Killer Frost with a stern look for the duration of the latter's speech. There was a scene in 3x07 which was cut and has never seen the light of day, where Iris helps Caitlin dye her hair at the end of the episode, and that would have likely have strengthened this dynamic. Instead, Iris and Caitlin return to their usual amiable relationship, where they hardly interact. Of course, then comes the revelation that Savitar kills Iris in the future in 3x09, "The Present," a fact which is revealed to everyone (except Joe) in 3x10, "Borrowing Problems from the Future." Also true is a future headline which reads, "Killer Frost Still at Large." Iris reminds the Team that her future is not the only one that must be changed, giving Caitlin a meaningful look. At this point, Caitlin has hidden a piece of the Philosopher's Stone, the rest of which Barry tossed into the speedforce, in the hopes that she can use it to rid herself of Killer Frost. This is only revealed when this decision backfires in 3x15, "The Wrath of Savitar," when Wally is imprisoned in the speedforce. There is a problematic implication in Caitlin's decision to keep a piece of the stone, namely that to prevent herself from going full Killer Frost, she ignored the dangerous implications her actions could have for Iris' fate. This is not to say Caitlin ought to be utterly condemned for her decision or that she was not justified; she was deeply worried that she would attack and hurt her friends, and she was desperate. The problem is that there's no proper aftermath to this for Iris and Caitlin; they ought to have had a meaningful conversation about this. Indeed had something like this happened in relation to any other two main characters, there would have been a one-on-one discussion between those characters. Instead, Iris continues to remind Barry and Joe about Caitlin's fate, but that's the extent of development the Iris/Caitlin dynamic gets, and it is indirect, at best. There is one moment in 3x12, "Untouchable," where Iris reminds Caitlin how strong she is, and Caitlin saves Iris using her cold powers. Similarly, in 3x18, "Abra Kadabra," Iris aids Julian in Caitlin's surgery. Subsequently, Caitlin goes full Killer Frost, aligns herself with Savitar, knocks HR!Iris out (believing it to be the real HR, when it's actually Iris), and brings Iris!HR (believing it to be the real Iris, when it's HR) to Savitar, who subsequently takes the fake Iris to Infantino Street and kills her, only for it to then be revealed that it was actually HR who died.
I am not going to sugarcoat this: this was a disaster, and there was absolutely no emotional fallout
. How does Iris feel about Caitlin's alter-ego aligning herself with Savitar and being an accomplice in Iris' attempted murder? How does Caitlin feel about this? At this point, I was not sure whether these two should even be friends at all, anymore. It was incredibly frustrating that the writers had inadvertently tarnished the Caitlin and Iris dynamic without even bothering to develop a nice friendship between them in the first place. If they had, at the very least, the events which transpired in season 3 would have been more emotionally devastating, in terms of Iris and Caitlin's relationship. All I felt, however, was disgruntlement and annoyance.
Did season 4 rectify the issues with Iris and Caitlin's dynamic? Nope, it didn't even come close, but it did a significantly better job than the previous seasons, combined, in fleshing out a dynamic between the girls
. Season 4, episode 1, "The Flash Reborn" sets things up a little confusingly. Caitlin apologizes to Joe for Killer Frost kidnapping Cecile, which is an odd writing choice, but in any case, the writers otherwise seem hell bent on making sure that they don't have to address the reality of Killer Frost being an accomplice to Iris' attempted murder. There was possible, hinted tension, Iris coolly inquires, "I'm sorry, We
? Where have you been for the last six months," when Caitlin returns to the Team in the premiere. Instead of this actually manifesting as tension that could develop the relationship, the root of the tension is actually Iris dealing with her grief over losing Barry, which she has bottled up for six months, a fact which she reveals to Barry, in his beautiful mind phase, after she finally breaks down. So, while it's great to see Iris struggle with her grief and negative emotions that stem from grief, this was also somewhat of a missed opportunity to add dimensions to Iris and Caitlin's dynamic. Season 4, episode 5, "Girl's Night Out," is a weird episode, in many respects. And I say that sincerely. In terms of Iris and Caitlin's relationship, however, it is positive and is the first episode, in over three seasons, which places that dynamic at the forefront. And why? Because the writers need to plausibly get to a point, narratively, where Iris would ask Caitlin to be her maid of honor. One of the reasons why I will defend this episode is because I think it organically deals with lingering problems, in the way you can best hope for from the writers, even though it does to in a manner which is unfortunately really rushed. It makes sense that Caitlin believes the two girls to be simply work friends, as they have not interacted in a way suggest otherwise; Iris was clearly a little taken aback by this revelation, and it's clear she places the blame on herself for not reaching out to Caitlin more frequently. The dynamic between Killer Frost and Iris, however, was particularly compelling to me; Killer Frost aligned herself with the man who tried to kill Iris last season, and here, she and Iris have a contentious relationship. Killer Frost is dismissive and cool, while Iris is both kind and determined, and it... works, bizarrely, at least in the context of this episode. Unlike basically everyone else in season 3 (*cough* Barry, Cisco, and Julian *cough*), Iris does not believe that Caitlin should seek to get rid of Killer Frost or that Killer Frost is inherently evil. She gets both Caitlin and Killer Frost to begin their reconciliation. It's a smart way to breathe life into a dynamic which has been left to collect dust for several seasons. The scene where Iris asks Caitlin to be her maid of honor, and Caitlin's response, where she is surprised and extremely touched, is lovely and provided a glimpse into what this friendship could have been
. That's as much development as the relationship gets, but there's clear evidence that things are a bit more positive. Caitlin comforts Iris by holding her hand at Barry's trial; Iris tells Caitlin she's a badass all on her own after she loses Killer Frost; Caitlin thoroughly supports Iris when she becomes a speedster; and Caitlin confides in Iris about how she and Killer Frost have been communicating via sticky notes. These are brief moments, but it's basically better than anything we've gotten in the past. So that, in itself, is a bit more promising.
The writers are not invested in Iris and Caitlin's friendship at all, and it shows. Where they need them to interact, such as "Girl's Night Out," they will write them a decent dynamic, but because they don't have the foundation for the level of friendship portrayed in that episode, it did feel a bit shoehorned in. Yes, the smaller moments in later episodes of season 4 were certainly an improvement on that front, but I just don't think anything stronger is to become of this particular dynamic ever. For this relationship, I do think it just might be too late, because, narratively, it is likely jarring to try and turn things around drastically. Which is too bad, because I think they could have had a wonderful, deep friendship. Regardless, I hope they do get to continue having small moment where they interact, as they did in season 4 every odd episode, going forward.
2. Iris and Linda
Iris protects Linda from Dr. Light.
Iris and Linda share a lovely friendship, but their friendship lasted all of four or five episodes in season 2, and their dynamic was plagued by silly, petty drama in season 1. The determined, smart, and lovely Linda Park is introduced in 1x12, "Crazy For You," and she eventually went on to date Barry for a few episodes. Iris, who, at this point, is struggling with the revelations that Barry is in love with her and that she might very well be in love with him, and additionally her confusion at Barry now dating Linda, does not quite know how to handle the situation. She steps back, therefore, until Linda interrogates her about "Barry's weird behavior" (something which Linda, arguably, ought to have just asked Barry about). Partly because Iris does not know Barry is the Flash, and partly because Iris is unsure how to deal with the onslaught of conflicting emotions, she inadvertently reveals to Linda that Barry is in love with her. This fuels an antagonistic dynamic between the girls for the remainder of season 1; heightened tensions reach a climax in 1x15, "Out of Time," when after the infamous bowling double date, where Barry and Iris act like an old, married couple, Linda accuses Iris of having feelings for Barry. That's their final interaction in season 1. It's nothing short of problematic.
There was a lot of animosity towards the writers amongst the fandom for doing Iris and Linda so dirty, and undoubtedly, this led to the turnaround in season 2, for which I am eternally grateful. In season 2, Linda and Iris are both working at Central City Picture News, and they are extremely supportive of one another. Linda reveals that Iris' exposé on an eviction scam got the front page, proclaiming to Joe that, "his daughter is a badass." When Linda defiantly refuses to write a piece on an abusive athlete, and when her editor finally relents to her demand, Iris is very supportive of Linda's defiance and general badass-ery, stating, "She (referring to Linda) shoots, she scores." Their relationship gets more screen-time in 2x05, "The Light and the Dark," when at CCPN, they are attacked by Dr. Light, Linda's Earth-2 counterpart, who is looking for Linda. Iris protects Linda and skillfully shoots off Dr. Light's mask, revealing that she is Earth-2 Linda. Linda is grateful for this. In 2x06, "Enter Zoom," Iris brings Linda to S.T.A.R. Labs and acclimates her to the Team. She advocates for Linda's agency to Barry, when Linda is adamant that she wants to do something about Dr. Light and Zoom. The two girls kick back beers late at night in CCPN, chatting and casually joking with one another. When Linda leaves, however, she is kidnapped by Zoom. The aftermath of this leads Linda to make the decision to leave Central City, and we have not seen her since that episode.
Obviously, this is a friendship that the writers turned around and made believable in a short amount of time. Iris and Linda are supportive of one another, uplift each other, and care about one another. They also chat about their ambitions and their fears. This is what the Flash writers should have done from the get-go with Iris and Caitlin. So, this is a nice, albeit short-lived, friendship, but one we will never see onscreen again, because Linda has not returned, nor even been mentioned, since 2x06. Deep sigh.
3. Iris and Marlize
Iris brings Marlize onto the Team in the final fight against Clifford DeVoe.
Iris and Marlize is, in my opinion, the most fascinating and well-developed female dynamic on the show. And what's difficult to admit is that the reason it was so well-developed is because it served direct narrative purpose to the main plot of season 4, rather than exist solely for the benefit of the ladies' respective character development. 4x07, "Therefore I Am," sets up a juxtaposition of Barry Allen, Central City's Scarlet Speedster, and his ever-supportive wife (then fiancée), Iris West-Allen, and Clifford DeVoe (super-villain extraordinaire) and his ever-supportive wife, Marlize DeVoe. It was the promise of the super-hero married couple against the super-villain married couple, except, as it later becomes evident, Marlize and Clifford are not really that strong of a duo. Why?
Well, DeVoe is drugging Marlize and abusing her to force her to stay with him. But the early days of Marlize and Clifford certainly provide a fascinating comparison to Barry and Iris (who are, canonically, the gold standard, as proclaimed by Barry, himself). Season 4 did not quite flesh out Barry and DeVoe, as DeVoe somehow became everyone's (and I mean everyone
, including every Central City citizen) villain, but one relationship season 4 continued to develop consistently was Marlize and Iris. Their first face-off was well-anticipated, because, as noted above, 4x07 had set up Marlize and Iris as foils. By the time 4x10, "Trial of the Flash," rolled around, the writers had generated a great deal of narrative anticipation as to how these two women would interact. It was explosive: Iris is infuriated with Marlize and DeVoe for framing her husband, and Marlize challenges Iris, "What are you willing to do for your husband?" In 4x18, "Lose Yourself," they come face to face in a duel, Marlize with a katana, and Iris with a gun, and here, Iris responds to the challenge Marlize set in 4x10 directly, "You asked me what I was willing to do for my husband, why don't I show you." It is one of the coolest hand to hand combats on the show until date, and it culminates with Iris having no choice but to stab herself non-lethally, so as to get Marlize out of S.T.A.R. Labs, using DeVoe's chair to do so. In 4x22, "Think Fast," Iris and Harry find Marlize hiding out in England, and Marlize immediately puts up her sword, while Iris has her gun on the ready. Marlize becomes unsure and remorseful upon seeing Harry's deteriorating brain power, as she realizes that this is what everyone will become if they do not stop DeVoe. Finally, Marlize's challenge comes full circle; after Marlize poses the challenge to Iris in 4x10, and Iris subsequently responds to the challenge in 4x18, Iris now poses her own challenge to Marlize, "Now I am asking you, what are you willing to do for the world?" Iris delivers a powerful monologue to Marlize, which persuades Marlize to actively aid Team Flash in the final fight against DeVoe. Her aid proves vital, and she and Iris meet common ground at the end of 4x23, "We Are The Flash." They even hug, before Marlize departs permanently to go use her skills for good. It's the quintessential enemies to friends dynamic, and it is a fleshed out and well-developed arc, despite them only sharing a handful of scenes together.
Iris and Marlize, in my opinion, are the most well-developed female dynamic on the show, and I was thoroughly fascinated watching how they went from enemies to allies. Having said that, this is a strong dynamic that existed only for one season, although I would love it if Kim Engelbrecht could guest star from time to time. Furthermore, the strength of the dynamic is undoubtedly because it had narrative importance- the writers needed to narratively get to a place where Marlize would join the Team to fight her husband, and thus, the Iris and Marlize dynamic was crafted with that goal in mind. Still, it's a great female dynamic; what's disappointing is that it undoubtedly is a one-season dynamic.
4. Caitlin and Felicity
Caitlin and Felicity chat before saying goodbye in season 1, episode 8, "Flash vs Arrow."
Caitlin and Felicity share a really promising dynamic and friendship in season 1 of The Flash
and season 3 of Arrow
, respectively. They are both extraordinarily intelligent and capable; Caitlin is, at this point, the only girl on Team Flash, and Felicity had been the only girl on Team Arrow for seasons 1 and 2. Thus, they have plenty to bond over, and it's lovely to see these two brilliant minds interact. They're friendly in Caitlin and Cisco's introductory episode in season 2 of Arrow, where Felicity commends Caitlin's efforts in aiding a comatose Barry. Season 1, episode 4, "Going Rogue," and the Flash vs Arrow
crossover event in season 1 of The Flash
and season 3 of Arrow
further developed this sweet dynamic. Caitlin is more closed of, but she is very empathetic, and Felicity is, of course, plucky, very chatty, and extremely friendly; they're so dissimilar in personalities that it makes for a really cute friendship, because they balance each other out. Felicity is a proponent of Caitlin and Cisco, urging Barry to trust them in 1x18, "All Star Team-Up," which once again indicates that the two ladies are encouraging of one another's agency.
It's perhaps difficult to maintain a friendship between two characters who are on different shows in the long-term, but subsequent crossover events effectively dropped any further development for this friendship. I don't doubt that they are still friends, but I cannot think of another scene after season 1 of The Flash
and season 3 of Arrow
where Caitlin and Felicity share meaningful interaction, outside of the throwaway line (such as Felicity inquiring about Caitlin's cold powers in 3x08, "Invasion," or Caitlin jokingly correcting Felicity, the latter who referred to Iris as glowing, stating that, "It's pregnant women who glow, brides blush." The exception may have been 4x05, "Girl's Night Out," as Felicity, along with Iris, encourage Caitlin to join in the bachelorette festivities, when Caitlin tries to back out. Again, there are minor interactions in this episode between Felicity and Caitlin, and Killer Frost and Felicity ("You're like the Incredibly Hulk!"), but nothing one-on-one.
Caitlin and Felicity are a promising friendship, but that promise has waned since season 1 of The Flash
. They hardly interact meaningfully in crossover events, likely because the crossovers now include so many shows, so the sweet friendship they developed in seasons 1 of The Flash
and season 3 of Arrow
has not received any further onscreen development. Obviously, this can easily be rectified, though, by the writers allowing them one-on-one scenes together in crossover events.
5. Iris and Felicity
Iris comforts Felicity.
Iris and Felicity meet for the first time in 1x04, "Going Rogue," and it's very cute; Felicity is quirky and extremely
chatty and friendly, while Iris is warm and charming. There's an instant connect between the characters, and that's perhaps because Felicity and Barry are similar, personality-wise, so Iris takes to Felicity immediately. They are disarmingly complimentary of each other; Felicity informs Barry that, "Iris is really
pretty," and Iris tells Felicity that she looks amazing at Jitters trivia night. They both, rather ironically, support the other's romantic relationship with Barry; Iris was, for one episode, all hands on deck for Barry/Felicity, while Felicity is definitely here of Westallen (remember her very excited, "You kissed Iris!" in 3x02, "Paradox").
However, apart from this, the dynamic between Iris and Felicity does not receive much development at all until season 4. They are clearly very amiable and friendly, as evidenced by them chatting over coffee in 1x08, "Flash vs Arrow," and they greet each other with a hug in 1x18, "All Star Team-Up." In 4x05, "Girl's Night Out," their friendship gets some development. I mean, I did find it a little odd that suddenly they seemed like really great friends in that episode, but Candice and Emily have an easy-breezy chemistry that makes it work, despite the writing fallacies, so I won't dwell on that too much. Felicity is quick to join Iris in her quest to help Caitlin and Killer Frost, and they also team up together to take down Amunet. This is a precursor to their team-up in the third part of the Crisis on Earth-X
crossover event, and it demonstrates that even when they don't quite succeed on their own, they work seamlessly together as a team. When Killer Frost arrives to aid them, Iris and Felicity quickly come up with the plan to get Cecile to direct the magnetic zone towards Amunet's metal, thereby preventing Amunet from attacking them. Proving that they work well together, Crisis on Earth-X
event gives them the opportunity to team up and taken down Nazis, when they remain trapped in S.T.A.R. Labs. They also almost succeed in saving Kara Danvers, but are foiled by Metallo's sudden appearance. It's a dynamic that I didn't expect to work so well, and yet it truly
Although it developed later on in Flash
s canons, I think that Iris and Felicity do share a nice friendship, and it's strengthened by the fact that the ladies make an effective team. Obviously, if the writers continue to write them similarly to how they were written in Crisis on Earth X
in future crossover events, then the friendship will continue to develop positively (especially now that they share an anniversary).
6. Caitlin and Amunet
Amunet and Caitlin bid adieu.
Like Marlize and Iris, Caitlin and Amunet is a fascinating dynamic that goes from being antagonistic to friendly (in fact, almost motherly). When I first heard that Caitlin agreed to work with Amunet, allowing the use of Killer Frost's abilities to aid in Amunet's underground meta-human trafficking business (yikes!), I was not sure what to think. Caitlin originally went to Amunet to get help in getting rid of Killer Frost, after the meta-human cure did not quite do the trick, and in exchange, Amunet demands both her and Killer Frost's services, to which Caitlin reluctantly agrees. She subsequently quits and returns to Team Flash, which enrages Amunet, who begins sending her threatening messages. We get our first look at this dynamic in 4x05, "Girl's Night Out," where Amunet sends her right-hand, Norvolk, to threaten Caitlin, so as to force her to return to do Amunet's bidding. Amunet and Killer Frost face off in a nightclub, but Iris intervenes before things get ugly. Subsequently, Amunet and Killer Frost meet in the streets, where Amunet subdues Killer Frost, beating her until Caitlin returns. This seems, at first, a pretty one-dimensional dynamic: Killer Frost and Caitlin having been forced to work for Amunet, while Amunet refuses to let them go. However, things are far more complex, as evidenced in 4x09, "Don't Run," where Amunet enlists Caitlin's medical genius, to treat a meta human whom she plans to then sell off. Here, in order to encourage Caitlin, who is generally feeling inadequate when compared to Killer Frost, Amunet praises her genius and medical talents, stating that there is no one more brilliant than Caitlin. For the first time, despite the fact that Amunet is still manipulating Caitlin in any way she can to get her to do her bidding, we see that Amunet may care about Caitlin outside of using her. Caitlin eventually capitalizes on her resourcefulness to escape along with the patient she was treating, Dominic. In 4x21, "Harry and the Harrisons," Caitlin decides to enlist Amunet's help in getting Killer Frost back. In doing so, she agrees to Killer Frost being used as muscle for Amunet for one more task. However, Amunet reveals to Caitlin that she did nothing to help Caitlin control Killer Frost, and she really cannot do anything to help Caitlin get Killer Frost back, because she does not know how. This leads to the revelation that the existence of Killer Frost is a placebo effect, and Caitlin knows she has to tap into herself to get Killer Frost back. Amunet and Caitlin work together to fight off Amunet's former cronies, and Amunet praises Caitlin, subsequently, "Go be brilliant, my darling." Amunet also provides a ricochet of metal that proves important in destroying one of DeVoe's satellites, which she hands over to Caitlin. Their dynamic, by the end of 4x21, feels very respectful, and they depart friends, perhaps.
Caitlin and Amunet share a great dynamic in season 4, one that is complex and interesting. I always wondered how the relationship would develop from the get go, and it developed seamlessly. I didn't at once question how they went from effectively antagonists to having a deep respect for one another. This was well-written, if not underutilized, but it once again is only a one-season dynamic, which is a shame.
1. Iris and Francine
Iris confronts Francine about Wally, and why she kept him a secret for so many years.
I don't even know how to articulate how angry I still am at how dirty Iris and Francine's relationship was done. In season 1, there is no mention of Iris's mother, but it is assumed that she died. In a deleted scene from 1x23, "Fast Enough," Iris and Joe discuss Barry's decision to travel back in time to save his mother, and Iris's mother is also discussed. Here, it is stated that she died. However, in terms of the show's trajectory, we learn that Iris believes
Francine to be dead, because that is what Joe led her to believe. When Iris was a child, Francine overdosed and passed out on the couch; a fire started in the kitchen, and Iris contacted the police. Because she was so young and so traumatized, Iris effectively forgot the memory. Let's just be clear here: Iris has literal holes in her memory, because what she witnessed was so traumatic
. The writers sort of brush that aside, however, as Iris's childhood trauma is not dealt with, as it solely exists as the reason why Iris cannot quite remember what really happened with her mother. Joe admits Francine into rehab, and he subsequently decides, in order to protect Iris's good memories of her mother and so as not to further traumatize her, to lie and tell her her mother died.
Thus, in season 2, Francine returns to Central City. She's clean, but she's dying of cancer, and she wants to finally make amends with her husband and daughter. Joe reveals the truth to Iris, who although deeply emotional upon hearing the news, immediately forgives him. She is understandably cold towards Francine when meeting her in 2x04, "The Fury of Firestorm," but things become worse when Iris investigates and discovers that Francine was pregnant when she went to rehab, and that she gave birth to a boy, Joe's son and Iris's brother, Wally. The writers don't allow for Iris and Francine to navigate this complex terrain, together, choosing instead to sideline Iris's emotional pain in season 2a in favor of building up Legends of Tomorrow
. Wally subsequently reaches out to Iris and Joe in 2x09, "Running to Stand Still," but Iris and Francine's relationship receives no more narrative space. It was solely a mechanism to bring in Wally West, and thus the writers wrote such a painful, traumatic narrative for these two women, but could not be bothered to follow through on fleshing that narrative out and allowing for them to voice their feelings. It might seem that I'm being unduly harsh, and perhaps I am, but it's just so disrespectful to see the first mother/daughter dynamic portrayed on this show treated in such a manner. In 2x11, "Reverse Flash Returns," Francine has been hospitalized, and Iris goes to visit her, and she finally breaks down in her mother's presence. She tells Francine that she wishes she had reached out to her sooner, as she would have "forgiven her then, just as she is forgiving her then." It's a beautifully heartbreaking scene, but it makes the disrespect this relationship suffered even more evident. Francine is painted as the neglectful mother, and Iris as the strong daughter who has to pick up the pieces for her family. Furthermore, Francine dies offscreen.
In 3x02, "Paradox," due to the cosmic retcon
, it is revealed that post-Flashpoint, Iris actually took her mother's side when Francine returns to Central City and not her father's. This is heartbreaking to me, because in this reality, the writers may have created a mother/daughter bond that might have been emotional and heartbreaking, but still fleshed out, except that none of that
happened onscreen, and the cosmic retcon was just to create tension between Iris and Joe for one episode.
: In my opinion, the female relationship treated most
egregiously by the writers is Iris and Francine's relationship, and I suspect that that's a big statement to make, seeing as the writers' track record writing meaningful female dynamics has been very poor. I just cannot comprehend the injustice done to this relationship. There is no way anything in relation to this dynamic can be rectified, so it is my hope that in season 5, the writers flesh out both Iris and Cecile's relationship and Iris and Nora's relationship, because, at the very least, Iris deserves to have loving relationships with her quasi step-mother and her daughter that receive narrative respect.
2. Caitlin and Carla
Dr. Tanhauser and Caitlin discuss their complex relationship.
The interesting thing about Dr. Carla Tanhauser is that prior to her first appearance in the flesh in 3x05, "Monster," she's made out to be a pretty horrible, possibly even emotionally abusive mother. This is evidenced by the conversation which unfolds between Earth-2 Killer Frost and Caitlin in 2x19, "Back to Normal."
However, the picture presented in 3x05 is somewhat different, so I can deduce that the writers did not, as of season 2, have a proper grasp on how they wanted to portray Carla Tanhauser. When we finally meet here, she's certainly a distant mother; she's emotionally unavailable, a fact which Caitlin addresses in 3x05, when Carla is doing tests on her, as they try to determine the cause of Caitlin's cold powers. I have no doubt that she was not a good mother to Caitlin; she's cold, she's solely interested in her research and her career, and she's hardly had a care for what her daughter has been doing (although she, of course, declares that Caitlin has been wasting her time working at S.T.A.R. Labs). Carla, however, seems remorseful when Caitlin informs her that she got married and that Ronnie subsequently died; Caitlin makes this statement in response to Carla saying that Caitlin cannot know what it is like to lose her husband, the way she has. This seems to be a turning point, as Carla softens, just slightly, towards Caitlin. Regardless, I didn't see the horrible person she was originally painted out to be in season 2; she is receptive to Caitlin and immediately agrees to help her. Of course, I don't think she is a good mother, either, however, and she undoubtedly caused Caitlin inadvertent pain. Caitlin and her mother seem to reach some common ground when Carla talks her down, when Caitlin transforms into Killer Frost, and they hug. Carla additionally aids Julian in developing the meta-human cure for Caitlin, but this occurs off-screen.
At the moment, we've only had one episode which portrayed Caitlin and Carla's relationship, although 3x05 did spend a good deal of time on their relationship, so there was definitely quite a bit of positive movement for their dynamic in that one episode. Susan Walters is set to guest star in season 5, once again, and while I don't doubt that Caitlin's relationship with her returned-from-the-dead father will receive far more development, there is definitely promise for at least some development between mother and daughter. I'd like the complexities of their relationship to be fleshed out, at the very least.
3. Iris and Cecile
Cecile grabs Iris's chair, pulling it towards her, when Norvolk releases his snake eye.
Iris and Cecile have the most straightforward mother/daughter dynamic on The Flash
, thus far. It's not confusing or complicated; it's just loving and protective and sweet. And it's nice to see a mother/daughter relationship on this show that is really very sweet and loving and not burdened by complicated emotional baggage. This is especially refreshing on a show that seems to view healthy, wholesome female relationships as generally impossible, when that is not the case at all in real life.
Of course, then, the show does not give them a lot of screen time together [dramatic sigh
]. Iris is Joe and Cecile's number one cheerleader in season 3a of The Flash
; Cecile greets her excitedly in 3x11, "Dead or Alive"; and they have a family outing along with Joe, Barry, Wally, and Joanie at Jitters. In 3x18, "Abra Kadabra," Cecile is absolutely thrilled for Barry and Iris, and compliments Iris's engagement ring and comments on how Barry's proposal was extremely romantic. Iris and Cecile lightly laugh about Joe's records collection in 4x01, "The Flash Reborn," when Cecile discreetly reminds Joe to help Iris deal with her grief, which she has been bottling up. In 4x03, "Luck be a Lady," Iris and Cecile joke together about the creaky pipes in the West house. During 4x05, "Girl's Night Out," Cecile is extremely protective of Iris, and she refuses to leave her side, and while they disagree a bit on Killer Frost, Cecile agrees to help Felicity and Iris take down Amunet, because she has no intention of letting Iris go into the field by herself. Cecile stands by Iris during Barry's trial and after that, accompanies Iris on her visit to Iron Heights, where they discover that Barry is not there in 4x13, "True Colors". Seasons 3 and 4 have developed a sweet mother/daughter relationship between Cecile and Iris, but I would love to see more.
I'm likely biased, but I adore
Iris and Cecile's relationship. It's sweet and supportive and wholesome. While complex female dynamics are important, sometimes it's really nice to have a straightforward mother/daughter dynamic. I just wish we saw more of it, and that they got more one-on-one scenes together. I hope, now that Cecile has a new baby, and Iris has a grown daughter returned from the future, that Iris and Cecile get moments to bond, especially where Cecile gives Iris some good motherly advice.
4. Cecile and Joanie
Joanie and Cecile bond over the sonogram of baby Jenna Marie West.
There is, unfortunately, not a lot to say about Cecile's relationship with her daughter, Joanie, but it appears to be a loving, healthy mother/daughter relationship, laced with some run-of-the-mill mother/daughter conflict, due to Joanie's stubborn and headstrong nature, which certainly does not overpower the relationship. Joanie excitedly looks at the sonogram of her baby sister with Cecile in 4x05, "Girl's Night Out," before turning down the invitation to join Iris's bachelorette festivities. Of course, Joanie winds up working at the strip club where Ralph drags the guys to, and Joe is a bit traumatized. As it turns out, Joanie is working there to do research on the male gaze and the objectification of women, but Joe nonetheless tells her that she ought to tell her mother. Thus, like any mother/daughter relationship, there are things that Joanie, naturally, keeps from her mother.
This is a lovely mother/daughter relationship, or at least I believe it is, but it has received no screen time and no development. It's still questionable whether we will even see Joanie again, but now that Danielle Nicolet is a season regular, I do hope that the writers at least bring Joanie back maybe twice a season and portray more of this relationship.
and last, but certainly not least...
5. Iris and Nora
Iris (and Barry) looking at Nora in a promo image for 5x01, "Nora."
Spoilers about what Iris and Nora's relationship will look like in season 5 is what spurred me to write what has become a rather long analysis of the problematic ways in which The Flash
has handled female relationships. Either they're tossed to the side, ignored, not given screen-time to develop, or exist for a season, at most, simply for the furthering larger narrative purposes. There are no lasting female relationships which receive a good deal of narrative space. That saddens me.
As for Iris and Nora, whatever tension and drama has propelled Nora to be cold towards her mother, I still want to see the complexities of this relationship developed alongside Barry and Nora's dynamic. What I don't want (and what I fear, given the writers' poor track record with female relationships) is for the tension to basically place Iris and Nora's relationship on the back-burner, while Barry and Nora's relationship gets all the development. Don't get me wrong, I am greatly
looking forward to what I believe will be a really cute (but drama-filled) father/daughter relationship; I just do not want it at the expense of Iris and Nora's mother/daughter relationship.
Thus, I hope
that the writers are sensitive to the tension between the pair, that Iris gets to voice her vulnerabilities and emotions, that Nora gets to deal with whatever happened in the future that has resulted in the existence of the tension, and that they slowly work on building their relationship, until that tension begins to dissipate. Then, they can share a really sweet, loving mother/daughter relationship. There is so much potential here for portraying a wonderful female relationship that gets a lot of good development; so I hope the writers don't drop the ball on yet another female relationship.
All in all, it's evident that while The Flash
is a great show, it has not handled female relationships well at all. But all is not lost; there is still time for the writers to really begin fleshing out female dynamics, old and new, and build strong female relationships.